It’s a relatively meatless Friday, so let’s take a moment to think about my favorite made up term, the Meat Wall, which is the invisible barrier made up of population and arable land that we are racing towards. Eventually, there will not be enough free land on Earth to raise the cows, pigs, chickens and kangaroos necessary to feed us meat at the levels we now expect. When will we reach that point, and what will happen? I’m not sure, but I think there must be a way to find out.
There will be another 3 billion people on earth by 2050, barring the rapid development of Martian colonies. Even if only a sixth of those new people can afford to eat at the current American rate of 2,920 oz. of meat per year, the world will need to produce 91 billion more pounds of meat by 2050. My friends, that is a lot of effing cows.
I’m not worried about the population outgrowing the total food supply – you can go talk to Thomas Malthus about that one.. I’m talking about a matter of preference and taste; people want more meat than they can have. Will meat prices go up, consumption go down or both? How will it change our culture? These questions are harder to answer.
But it is possible to judge just how finite meat is. If we know how much land a typical livestock animal needs, and we know how much total farming land is available, we can calculate the theoretical upper limit on the amount of animals the earth can sustain. Including ratios for types of animals, land used for waste, and, most importantly, level of meat consumption per capita, we could look at scenarios for when the earth would actually hit the meat wall.
Sadly, I’m not an economist. I’m a freelance meat writer. But on the odd chance that an economist stumbles upon this blog while searching for the best burger on Wall St., I challenge him or her to think about this equation. The future of our burgers, barring the development of an infinite cow machine or lunar beef dome, depends on it.